We at the Indy love summer. We love the heat, and the smells, and the tastes. Which means we love barbecue (another name for "summer"), and its heat, and its smells, and its tastes.
Raymond Sokolov, in the Wall Street Journal, says barbecue, and the world it creates, is "starkly divided between the mob and the cognoscenti — a paradoxically snobbish rift in a subculture built on a myth of rural simplicity and y'all-come populism. Barbecuemania is split between the uninstructed millions (who will eat a sparerib no matter where it's been) and the adepts who love to split bristles over where to find the best 'dry' ribs or the tangiest vinegar-based sauce."
Colorado Springs loves its barbecue. For a time last year, it seemed every new opening restaurant was a sauce-lovin', card-carrying member of the Church of Low and Slow. Our restaurant database, found on our homepage lists roughly 15 local barbecue restaurants, not to mention the west side's newly opened Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q, and the numerous chains filling up Academy Boulevard.
With this profusion of charred-meat heaven in mind, as well as the upcoming Independence Day holiday — when roughly 80 percent of adults will host or attend a cookout, according to a 2010 survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association — we felt it incumbent upon us to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Sauce, and see what truth lie on the other side.
To start, we chose four local stalwarts as our contestants, each known for its smoky prowess: Bird Dog BBQ, Firehouse Southern Style BBQ, Front Range Barbeque and Slayton's Tejon Street Grill.
Which meat to eat was a tougher choice. Burgers, chicken and sausage are all too ubiquitous, and while a killer brisket or prime rib can brighten anyone's day, it really came down to only one option, which 53 percent of that 80 percent in the poll will cook this July 4: ribs.
Ribs, be they baby back or spareribs, pork or beef, are the true test of a chef's ability, and offer loads of rope for a cook to hang himself with: Is it better to smoke the ribs with apple, cherry, peach, mesquite, maple, oak, or hickory, and do you soak the wood first? Do you use wood chunks, chips or pellets? Bark or no bark, fresh or dried, and when do you add it?
And that's just getting smoke into the meat; we haven't even touched on rib types, or sauce — so let's touch on them.
For our purposes, we chose pork ribs, of which there are two main cuts: baby back — cut from the top of the ribcage — and spareribs, cut closer to the belly. Spareribs can be broken down again into St. Louis and Kansas City, depending on how they're trimmed.
After the meat's off the pig, there are a hundred different ways to cook it, but four main styles: (North and South) Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis and Texas. Those four can be split even further, but let's just stick to the basics.
Carolina barbecue is pig-centric, and vinegar and spice-based. Thick, sweet and tomato-y is Kansas City-style, while Memphis brings the dry rub and the naked ribs.
Texasbarbeques.com says, "Texas barbecue sauce is a spicy and tangy tomato-based sauce, and is usually served on the side."
So there you have it. Click the image below for results.
Firehouse's charred pink slabs of smoky pork were too much to top, as the west side staple wins our summer rib round. Though service was (incredibly) slow when ordering, the delivered product made up all the difference.